National made a dramatic point when delivering its promise to reinstate full services at Lumsden Maternity Centre if elected in 2020.
The party made the announcement yesterday at Gorge Hill, 23km from Mossburn, heading towards Te Anau, an estimated point where they say mothers may have to give birth on the side of the road if maternity services are downgraded at the Northern Southland centre.
Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker had promised to fight for the retention of full maternity services in Lumsden when the Government announced its plan to downgrade them earlier this year.
Mr Walker was passionate about the cause because New Zealand’s wealth had been created off the back of farming.
Mr Walker and National’s Michael Woodhouse made the announcement.
Mr Walker said Lumsden Maternity Centre was crucial to the Southland community and this announcement promised safety and optimal care for new mothers and babies.
“I am delighted for the families who will be able to use this centre in the future if we are elected in 2020, Mr Walker said.
“Despite a strong outcry from the Southland community to stop the downgrade, which was illustrated in my petition to save the Lumsden Maternity Centre and the protest march I led through Lumsden, the Government did not listen,” he said.
“This Government is carrying out a sustained attack on rural communities by increasing fuel taxes and stripping transport funding from the regions.”
New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson said announcing the pledge at Gorge Hill was grandstanding.
He rejected claims the Government had not boosted funding for roading as a 52% increase had been announced for regional roading.
Mr Patterson said the SDHB had made the decision to change the Lumsden facility to a hub after considerable consultation.
“The process was really thorough.”
There had been an upgrade of services at Te Anau and other maternity services were provided at Gore and Winton.
But Mr Walker said the decision to downgrade the Lumsden services made it clear that the Labour-led Government did not care to recognise the needs of rural communities.
“With population growth in the region set to increase significantly and approximately 1000 new homes planned for the Kingston housing development, the need for maternity services in this region will be more crucial than ever.”
While the Government had not listened, National had and it was proud to provide much-needed security for the future of maternity care in Southland, he said.
Mr Woodhouse said providing full birthing services at Lumsden was vital for the health, wellbeing and the safety of mothers, babies and their families.
“That’s why National is committed to reinstating Lumsden as a full birthing unit should we be re-elected in 2020.”
Their efforts to convince the Health Minister and the Government of the need for these services had been ignored, he said.
The proposed closure highlighted serious safety concerns. Mothers will be forced to endure major delays in getting maternity care, with some having to travel up to 130km to give birth, he said.
“This should not be acceptable – this centre is indispensable to its rural community.”
Northern Southland medical trust director Carrie Adams said the trust’s mandate from the community was to keep the facility open.
The full operation was funded until the end of February, she said.
Under the plan the facility would be converted to a hub which would only cater for emergency births and the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) would allocate four hours a month for telemedicine for women who needed special care from consultants.
“Four hours a month is not very much, really, when you think about it,” Mrs Adams said.
If services were downgraded then women would have to give birth in centres such as Winton, Gore or Queenstown, depending on where they lived, she said.